8 Self-Publishing Secrets For Designing An eBook Cover

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A good ebook cover is a visual, strategic and emotional glance into the contents of your writing. But if you decide to design your own ebook cover, there are some important things you need to take into consideration.

This isn’t just a topic of vanity and of having a “professional looking cover”, though. It’s a truly important part of your self-publishing journey.

A micro-second glance at your cover may be the only opportunity you have to persuade a potential reader to find out more. Moreover, there’s no arguing with the fact that books are judged by their covers. A shoddy cover suggests shoddy content, even when that content may be the best content in the world. You need to just browse the many free titles on Amazon to see what I mean.

So, if you, as an aspiring writer, are going to dive into the deep end and rustle up your own ebook cover, here are a few things you need to take into account.

Ebook And Print Book Covers Are Different

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This morning I was cordially informed by GoodReads (read our Unofficial Guide to GoodReads) that one of my friends had recently read the four books above. “Interesting”, I thought. Only I had not the faintest idea what the three on the right were, nor whether I would be even loosely interested in reading them myself. Unless I strained my eyes to try and read the title. Or strained my brain trying to decipher what the images were all about.

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On the other hand, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes cover immediately peaked my curiosity. It’s been a book I’ve wanted to read for a long while, and knowing one of my friends has read some of Sir Arthur’s work prompted me to click through to the GoodReads page and 5 minutes later, to download the book to my Kindle. All because I received some sort of insight into the book simply from its cover.

It may be the case that the Sherlock Holmes cover was never designed as an ebook, but its design features make it way more suited to the thumbnail-style screen space that the major retailers will give to your own cover. This is an important lesson in realising the importance of ensuring your ebook cover is designed with this in mind — to ensure it peaks curiosity, and gives the right amount of information, without anyone needing the click through to any other page.

Get Some Inspiration

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Before sitting down to design your cover, get a hearty dose of inspiration. Walk around your local bookstore and take photos of all the covers that you just have to pick up. Browse the portfolios of top book cover designers such as Scarlett Rugers, who designed the covers above. Open up the Amazon bestseller page for the category you’ll be publishing to, and see what works over there.

Make a list of the features you like, or the features that seem to make books in your category more popular, and keep all of this in mind when designing your own cover. Take into account things like image style, colouring, typography, negative space, the information on the cover etc.

Don’t forget to study the covers that just don’t grab your attention too. You’ll be able to learn a lot about what not to do.

Make Sure The Cover Is The Right Size

ebook cover design

There are arguably three different things you need to take into account here. Aspect ratio (dimensions are almost always in pixels), file size, and resolution. It can get pretty complicated, but you can find detailed walkthroughs on IndieBookCovers and Williams Writing, which I’d highly recommend.  You should also check relevant publishing sites etc to ensure this information is up to date.

Each site/e-reader has its own preferences (which change pretty much every year). So, you will need to have different versions of your cover optimised for each of these platforms, and also ensure you update your covers when needed to make sure they still look the part both on-screen and in search results. For this, make sure to retain a master copy of the original file so it can easily be edited in future.

For more technical specifications, this is a very brief overview, but click through to the article to see a more detailed breakdown.

Due to Amazon’s new large size recommendations (as of June 2014) you will have to make the cover wider than 2820 pixels. For a 6 x 9 proportion that could mean 3200 x 4800 pixels, unless you decide to go with the skinnier look and use their recommended 2820 x 4500. Do check the top-selling and newly added ebooks on Amazon though – you will see most authors prefer the slightly wider 6 x 9 (1:1.5) size, and your book may look odd if you make it thinner.

From there you can downsize the cover to 1600 x 2400 pixels to be uploaded at Barnes & Noble and other platforms that still require smaller file sizes.  For B&N especially you have to make sure the file is less than 2 MB.  However, they may soon follow in the footsteps of Amazon.

Start off with a resolution of 300 dpi or bigger to accommodate possible print versions of the book, then downsize to 72 dpi if need be.
– IndieBookcovers

Use The Right Images

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When it comes to using the right images (if you choose to use an image at all) for your ebook cover, there are a number of points to consider.

First: Avoid cheesy, cliché stock images at all costs. Please. You don’t want your cover looking like other mediocre, corny covers out there. Most people can recognise these cliché stock photos from a million miles away. And unless you’re a dab-hand at Photoshop, avoid playing around with images too much  — it’ll most likely end up looking amateur at best, a mess at worst.

Second: Don’t be too literal. Subtlety is key. The words within the book should be able to create the image in your readers’ mind. Your readers shouldn’t need you to force-feed images into their imagination through cover images that are so literal that they leave no room for interpretation. Use images and photos that set the mood, and portray a feeling, subject-matter, style or emotion, rather than telling the reader exactly what they should be picturing.

Third: Be willing to pay for the rights to an image that just works (free images are usually bad quality or have been used to death). For a relatively small fee, you can purchase images (with commercial rights) on sites like Shutterstock, iStockPhoto, GettyImages and Corbis.  Make sure you read the terms of use for the sites and for the licenses first, to see how many copies you’ll be able to sell, and what you’re allowed to use the images for.

Approach Typography Carefully

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Typography is a huge topic for dedicated graphic designers. There’s an art and a science to choosing the correct typefaces for cover design, so don’t approach this lightly, as it can have a huge affect on how professional your cover ends up looking. Avoid 3D typography, stretching, drop-shadows and all that other faux-fancy stuff unless you really know what you’re doing.

Make sure the font is large enough to be read, even on thumbnails. This may mean rethinking your title if you have to use a small font-size to easily fit it onto your cover. Try narrowing your header font (squishing the characters together a little), especially if you’re using a bold font. This often helps to make the title more readable by giving more contrast against the background.

For ebook covers, concentrate on including only your title and author name. There’s generally no room for recommendations, quotes from reviews, sub-headers etc. like there are on print books, so save these for inside the book itself.

And finally, make sure you have the rights to use the font you choose commercially. For this, you can use sites like MyFonts and FontSquirrel.

Simplicity Is Key

minimalistic

Try not to do too much with your cover. As the ol’ saying goes, “less it more”. Minimalism is in Vogue. Bear this in mind throughout your cover design process. If it doesn’t generate curiosity about your book, you should probably leave it out. There are plenty of designs out there that are complex and overpowering. But when displayed as a thumbnail on Amazon’s search results (or any other

There are plenty of designs out there that are complex and overpowering. But when displayed as a thumbnail on Amazon’s search results (or any other sites you may be making your book available on), just look a bit…messy. By having a simple clean cover, your book will stand out against the crowd.

Use The Right Tools

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Photo Editing: If you have access to Photoshop, and understand how to use its main features, this will likely be the best tool for you to use to design your own ebook cover. If you don’t have this behemoth software at your disposal however, you can download GIMP (free), or alternatively, get your hands on the Pixlr (free) photo editor (or use from within your browser). If needed, you can also pay a small fee for additional features.

Creating a 3D Cover: If you’re after a 3D version of your cover to help promote your book, you can use either 3D Box Shot Maker (free), or if you need more features, try Quick 3D Cover (paid).

There are other cover design tools available that help, but the results they churn out are less than stellar. You’re far better putting some time into learning how to the feature-rich graphic software available (mentioned above).

If It’s Not Working, Hire A Pro

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If you just can’t get your cover right, no matter how hard you try, you should seriously consider hiring a pro to produce the design for you. It’ll save you hours upon hours of heartache while ensuring your book looks professional.

If you take this route, make sure you love the designers designs, understand how many revisions you’re entitled to, and who owns the rights to the artwork etc.

Conclusion

In all, having a well-designed cover for your ebook should be taken seriously. It’s an important part of publishing your book in order to ensure your work looks professional, and actually sells. These tips and pointers should help you get started, and look for the right things when you start designing.

If you have designed an ebook cover, share your best tips. Which are the tools and resources that are invaluable?

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